Using My Anxiety: A Neurodiversity Tale

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I’m a pretty big sucker for neurodiversity. I love the idea that my differences don’t make me worse, and I especially like the mindset that I should be looking for the ways in which my brain makes my life better and easier for me so that I can rely on it in those ways.

But while some neurodivergences are more commonly talked about in terms of strength (autism and its tendency to allow for strong focus and pattern seeing is common), depression, anxiety, and eating disorders can be a little bit harder to reframe. Particularly when it comes to my eating disorder I have a hard time seeing how I can use the relevant traits to my benefit.

So today I’m going to try something that is mostly for my personal benefit, but hopefully will be a helpful roadmap for others who want to try to reframe how they see their own neurodivergence. I’m going to look at a concrete example of using my weird brain in a way that is positive.

I’ve been really anxious lately. My energy levels have been up thanks to some medication changes, and some big changes coming down the pipeline at work. I’m taking on way more responsibility, and I’m feeling a lot of pressure to perform at a high level because my bosses have expressed that they’re happy with me and want me to grow. Of course in my mind that means I have to live up to high expectations, and so I want to push myself much harder. Any mistake begins to feel like the end of the world. I imagine I’ll be fired because of that typo I made.

But I have also been highly productive recently. I make myself a detailed to do list each morning, and rarely hit the evening without having finished nearly everything on it. I just produced my first professional brochure, which I’m quite proud of. I’ve been writing like crazy. Despite the fact that sometimes the anxiety gets in the way because I will focus on my fears instead of on what needs to be done, it also motivates me in a major way. I haven’t worked this hard in a long time.

And sometimes it gets me to a place of control and calm. I see what needs to be done and I do it, with no worry about whether I feel like it or whether it’s fun. It needs to be done and so I do it. More often than not, a tinge of anxiety is what motivates me and pushes me into a space where getting things done feels more satisfying than anything else.

That might seem odd, but I don’t feel anxious about work that is meaningless to me. If I don’t care about the job or the consequences, then I don’t have any anxiety about getting it finished quickly and done well. So my anxiety is a good indicator to me that this is something important. That means I’ll double check things, do better work, and overall feel more accomplished than I do when I get something done that I don’t care about. People who don’t have strong anxiety might not have such an obvious and easy way to tell what they want to be doing and what’s important to them.

I felt this today. It had been ages since I had felt properly accomplished, truly in “flow” or whatever it is the kids are calling it these days. And while I don’t love how anxious I’ve been lately, it did help me reach a certain state of productivity when I harnessed it correctly.

So thanks anxious brain for pushing me to work harder and feel motivated. Sure, an excess of anxiety isn’t good for anyone. But when I can manage it and use it, it makes me a motivated and quality worker who takes criticism seriously and is constantly working to improve myself.